Since the days of moody ’90s power ballads and the global fugue state we called the Spice Girls, I have viewed
popular music as a symbol of where my corner of the world is, mentally and spiritually.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems one monumental aspect of music which connects the populace will be changed forever: brick-and-mortar shops selling physical copies of music. As it is in the West, so shall it be in the deep south as we say goodbye to flipping through rows of compact discs and vinyls and endless afternoons listening to albums from bacteria-rich public headsets at Musica.
We will all soon be at the complete mercy of the commandments of our taste-making overlords at Spotify, Youtube, iTunes, Deezer (is that still a thing?) and the like.
I’m told that like most things in SA, we will thankfully remain a few steps behind the rest of the world, so we have just a short mourning period during which we can still pretend we have operating CD players or have become sudden collectors of vinyls and even cassettes.
As a late millennial, I can’t say I will miss much about those silver discs of e-waste except, you see, all that is nostalgic about my youth.
In those days, as children of black up-and-comers in middle-class South Africa, the two most important gifts you would receive from about the age of 11 were your first diary and your first Walkman or CD player.
These were symbols of intellectual independence, in a way. A call to form your own ideas and to discover new ones, unchaperoned.
Shielded from parental judgment by the privacy of headphones and a lock, you would form yourself anew, divorced from your mom’s cringy Joan Armatrading-type beat in favour of the thoughtful stylings of P!NK and Lil Kim.
You would, of course, later correct this obvious error in judgment and blame it on being dropped as a child.
The 2000s would have your identity torn between the obvious and popular choice of Brandy’s Full Moon when you really wanted Blink 182’s Greatest Hits and so trips to Musica or Look ’n Listen would become depositions on your identity.
You may have swapped CDs with a new girl at school and now Tatu, blasting through those ridiculous 16-piece home entertainment systems, is questioning your sexuality and maybe suggesting you might want to try alcohol.
By this time, you will have been ready, but not really allowed, to listen to the Marshall Mathers EP you bought with money you said you’d use at the movies, which we all know is code for riding in cars with boys.
I don’t know if I’m getting to a point here, but this era we are saying goodbye to what was music we thought would be important forever.
Flipping through Mariah Carey’s lyric book was practically a Christmas tradition. Don’t even get me started on the CDs I still find in my mother’s house.
Now, as I impatiently hit the skip button on my Youtube playlist, I wonder if the music which begot the likes of 100 Gecs, Lil Pump and whatever my nieces and nephews are into, will be the last to see the inside of a Walkman, or form part of the 700MB of information stored inside those cheap old discs I’m surely not going to miss.